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Top 10 Practices for Secure Software Development

Top 10 Practices for Secure Software Development

Because of the increasing number of cyberattacks, security has become an integral element of SDLC (Software Development Lifecycle). Secure software development is a requirement to protect software from cybercriminals and hackers, minimize any vulnerabilities, and maintain users’ privacy.

In this post, we'll provide a checklist of the top secure development practices. The leading concepts are that the best developer security practices make security everybody’s responsibility and provide a software development environment that’s secure from the application’s inception to release.

What is Secure Software Development Lifecycle?

SSDLC (Secure Software Development Lifecycle) is a multi-step, systematic process that integrates security into every step of software development, from planning to deployment and beyond. Securing your software development lifecycle allows developers to gather security requirements along with functional requirements.

The SSDLC encourages developers to perform risk analysis during the design phase, and carry out security testing alongside the development process. It helps organizations ensure and maintain the integrity, confidentiality, availability, and overall quality of the application.

The main idea of secure software development is to prioritize security as an integral part of development. It’s baked into the planning phase as well as software code, but it becomes part of the project long before a single code snippet is written.

Here’s how a secure SDLC can benefit your organization:

  • Detects security flaws early so they can be eliminated timely (shift-left). The sooner and quicker you discover and address security vulnerabilities in your development process, the safer your finer product will be.
  • It can reduce working hours, spent on development, which can reduce the cost.
  • Eliminates design blunders even before they can be embodied in code.
  • Encourages stakeholders to invest more by helping them understand the importance of secure methodologies.

Why Do Developers Skip Security Steps?

Although secure software development is critical, there are various reasons why software developers skip it. We’ve compiled a list of the most common ones down below.

Lack of Resources and Time

When developers need to meet tight deadlines, they can skip important security steps. According to recent statistics, 67% of developers don’t address vulnerabilities in their code, and tight deadlines are one of the main reasons why they do that.

If a business leader understands the importance of secure software development and is willing to invest in different security tools, they’ll also need to realize that it’ll take extra resources and time.

For example, if they have only one developer to write code for a simple form, it’ll take a couple of minutes. However, the same form will take more time and might also need an extra developer if the leader wants to ensure cross-site scripting protection.

It won’t be possible for a single developer to write that form with protection routines within a couple of minutes. They’ll skip the step to ensure protection if they have a tight deadline to deliver the form.

Lack of Education

Not all developers have the same qualification, and the way they write code also differs. So, there’s always a possibility that your team of developers has individuals who don’t see security as a top priority of the development process.

Security and Development Silos

Many business leaders believe that security in software development is something that must be handled by a specialized team. It can be true in some cases, but generally, it’s not the best choice when it comes to secure development.

Due to this misconception, many organizations end up creating a dedicated cybersecurity team that works separately and doesn't have proper communication with developers.

As a result, security vulnerabilities get embodied in code and they’re discovered weeks (or even months) later. Not only does it make the system weak, in terms of security, but it also slows down the development process.

Important Note: You can have separate security and development teams if you want, but you’ll need to make sure that they don’t work separately. Please encourage them to work collaboratively and communicate with each other freely whenever needed.

Not Seeing Security as a Top Priority

According to a recent survey, 86% of developers don’t see security as a top priority, when it comes to software development. It’s an alarming number that only suggests that most organizations don’t prioritize secure development practices.

Top Developer Security Practices

Now that you understand the importance of secure software development, and why developers skip it, it’s time to discuss the top developer security practices to follow.

1. Consider Software Security as a Priority Right From The Start

As discussed, already, you’ll need to prioritize security and integrate it into your software development lifecycle from start to end.

You’ll need to make sure that you follow secure software development lifecycle techniques. It means that you must evaluate security during planning, designing, development, bug fixing, maintenance, and end-of-project stages.

Minimal actions can go a long way in making the SDLC safer: consider, for example, encouraging developers to use pre-commit hooks as security seatbelts to prevent secrets from being committed to source code repositories.

You’ll also need to promote team happiness, improve organizational culture, and ensure cross-team collaboration. Keep in mind that happy and satisfied developers are more likely to prioritize security while writing code.

2. Defining Project’s Security Requirements

All potential security gaps and weaknesses must be identified to define your project’s security requirements before the development starts. You can use the following tips for this purpose.

  • Employ multi-core secure software design to account for unknown and unforeseen interactions between processes and threads.
  • Improve the ability of your system to resist intentional and/or unintentional failures. For instance, cybercriminals often create attacks based on overloading and flooding a system using fake queries to make it lose manageability.
  • Plan out a hierarchy of user rights (project roles) so that each individual can have limited access depending on their responsibilities.
  • Set constraints on how different processes operate and behave. It’ll help you ensure that the hackers don’t interfere with the entire system and cause serious damage, even if they try to take control.

3. Identify Potential Security Threats

Work with your development team to identify potential security threats associated with the tools you’re using. This step should take place before your team starts the development process.

Adopt a defensive mindset while writing code and perform unit testing for each and every area of concern. In addition, make sure that your developers go back and review the code whenever they make changes to determine if it has introduced any new security vulnerabilities.

4. Have Secure Coding Guidelines and Standards

For a secure software development environment, every organization should have its own set of secure coding guidelines. Your secure coding guidelines will vary depending on your project’s requirements. However, the main purpose of these guidelines will remain the same, which is to protect all types of data.

All data, whether it is in transit or at rest, must be protected. It includes cookies, sessions, file storage, and database storage. You can use encryption services to encrypt data to ensure its protection. Don’t forget that your teams' communication channels are also an attractive target for malicious actors, and should be secured as well to mitigate the risk of data breaches.

The best way to create secure coding guidelines is to follow the tech industry’s security standards.

These standards are designed to help organizations promote better design principles. The following are some of the best-known security standards that you can use.

OWASP and OWASP SAMM

OWASP stands for open web application security project, and it’s a standard that provides developers with a list of secure development requirements, along with a solid ground for testing web application security.

The OWASP SAMM (Software Assurance Maturity Model) is a tool that helps organizations adapt security operations to their risk profile.

NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) SSDF

NIST SSDF (Secure Software Development Framework) is a defined set of secure development rules based on tried-and-true practices outlined by security-oriented organizations, such as OWASP.

NIST secure software development framework breaks down the software development lifecycle into four different categories listed below.

  • Preparing the Organization: Making sure that all the technologies, processes, and people in the organization are well-prepared for secure development, within development teams as well as at the organizational level.
  • Protecting Software: Ensuring the protection of all software components from unauthorized access and tampering.
  • Developing Fully Secured Solutions: Developing and releasing solutions with minimal security vulnerabilities.
  • Responding to Vulnerabilities: Identifying and addressing security vulnerabilities in software and making sure that they don’t occur in future releases.

5. Use Up-To-Date Frameworks and Libraries

Organizations need to use different types of frameworks and libraries to develop software solutions. Make sure that you select well-established, well-maintained, and trusted frameworks and libraries because they are likely to have fewer security vulnerabilities as compared to new entrants.

Since you can benefit from early bug detection when using open-source software components, you can better control your software security. Furthermore, employing secure libraries can assist in limiting the attack surface of your system as well.

Developers should carefully investigate the reputation of a framework or library, before incorporating it into the system. Better is to submit every new library addition for human approval. Having a well-maintained and enforced software component registry lets you control all the third-party tools you’re using.

6. Conduct Security Awareness Training

Your software development team must understand all the security challenges they can possibly face during the development process. It would help if you educated them about the common security attacks related to software development, especially the ones that are associated with your organization’s domain.

When developers know how cybercriminals and hackers work, they’ll be able to avoid the coding practices that can be exploited.

It's a good idea to organize frequent meetings where all your teams can communicate with each other to discuss secure development techniques. These meetings will help them understand how to write code that can resist cyberattacks.

7. Securing Access to Databases

Database(s) is one of the most valuable and critical parts of any software system, and it must be configured and protected properly. You’ll need to ensure that no data leak or unauthorized access is possible through overlooked loopholes and cracks located in the system.

8. Implement Digital User Identity

Implementing digital user identity will allow you to restrict access to different users/developers so they can only access what they need to perform their jobs.

For example, if you work on GitHub and have unsecured or unrestricted access for users to your repository (and mistakes are more common than you think!), it’ll work as an open invitation for security breaches. So, make sure you implement a digital user identity mechanism to ensure secure access and regularly review it.

9. Handle Errors and Exceptions in All Areas

Exception and error handling is critical to ensure system sustainability. It’ll allow you to determine how your software will react to unpredictable states and create processes that will prevent the system from crashing.

10. Monitor Security Information

Logging security information is essential to keep track of your solution’s unusual behaviors. Not only will it help you catch security incidents, but it’ll also provide you with insightful data regarding suspicious behaviors of the system. As a result, you’ll be able to address the issue before it turns into an actual data breach.

Final Words

Secure software development goes beyond writing secure code. It covers everything from the inception of software to its delivery. You need to follow a holistic approach to follow secure development practices in your organization’s everyday workflow.

It’ll help you make security everybody’s responsibility so that it works as an integral part of every individual’s job, linked to the software development process.

*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from GitGuardian Blog - Automated Secrets Detection authored by Thomas Segura. Read the original post at: https://blog.gitguardian.com/top-10-practices-for-secure-software-development/

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Thomas Segura

What You Need to Scale AppSec Thomas Segura - Content Writer @ GitGuardian Author Bio Thomas has worked both as an analyst and as a software engineer consultant for various big French companies. His passion for tech and open source led him to join GitGuardian as technical content writer. He focuses now on clarifying the transformative changes that cybersecurity and software are going through. Website:https://www.gitguardian.com/ Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/GitGuardian Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/gitguardian Introduction Security is a dilemma for many leaders. On the one hand, it is largely recognized as an essential feature. On the other hand, it does not drive business. Of course, as we mature, security can become a business enabler. But the roadmap is unclear. With the rise of agile practices, DevOps and the cloud, development timeframes have been considerably compressed, but application security remains essentially the same. DevSecOps emerged as an answer to this dilemma. Its promise consists literally in inserting security principles, practices, and tools into the DevOps activity stream, reducing risk without compromising deliverability. Therefore there is a question that many are asking: why isn't DevSecOps already the norm? As we analyzed in our latest report DevSecOps: Protecting the Modern Software Factory, the answer can be summarized as follows: only by enabling new capacities across Dev, Sec and Ops teams can the culture be changed. This post will help provide a high-level overview of the prerequisite steps needed to scale up application security across departments and enable such capabilities. From requirements to expectations Scaling application security is a company-wide project that requires thorough thinking before an y decision is made. A first-hand requirement is to talk to product and engineering teams to understand the current global AppSec maturity. The objective at this point is to be sure to have a comprehensive understanding of how your products are made (the processes, tools, components, and stacks involved). Mapping development tools and practices will require time to have the best visibility possible. They should include product development practices and the perceived risk awareness/appetite from managers. One of your objectives would be to nudge them so they take into account security in every decision they make for their products, and maybe end up thinking like adversaries. You should be able to derive security requirements from the different perceptual risks you are going to encounter. Your job is to consolidate these into a common set for all applications, setting goals to align the different teams collaborating to build your product(s). Communicating transparently with all relevant stakeholders (CISO, technical security, product owner, and development leads) about goals and expectations is essential to create a common ground for improvement. It will be absolutely necessary to ensure alignment throughout the implementation too. Open and accessible guardrails Guardrails are the cornerstone of security requirements. Their nature and implementation are completely up to the needs of your organization and can be potentially very different from one company to the other (if starting from scratch, look no further than the OWASP Top10). What is most important, however, is that these guardrails are open to the ones that need them. A good example of this would be to centralize a common, security-approved library of open-source components that can be pulled from by any team. Keep users' accessibility and useability as a priority. Designing an AppSec program at scale requires asking “how can we build confidence and visibility with trusted tools in our ecosystem?”. For instance, control gates should never be implemented without considering a break-glass option (“what happens if the control is blocking in an emergency situation?”). State-of-the-art security is to have off-the-shelf secure solutions chosen by the developers, approved by security, and maintained by ops. This will be a big leap forward in preventing vulnerabilities from creeping into source code. It will bring security to the masses at a very low cost (low friction). But to truly scale application security, it would be silly not to use the software engineer's best ally: the continuous integration pipeline. Embed controls in the CI/CD AppSec testing across all development pipelines is the implementation step. If your organization has multiple development teams, it is very likely that different CI/CD pipelines configurations exist in parallel. They may use different tools, or simply define different steps in the build process. This is not a problem per se, but to scale application security, centralization and harmonization are needed. As illustrated in the following example CI/CD pipeline, you can have a lot of security control steps: secrets detection, SAST, artifact signing, access controls, but also container or Infrastructure as Code scanning (not shown in the example) (taken from the DevSecOps whitepaper) The idea is that you can progressively activate more and more control steps, fine-tune the existing ones and scale both horizontally and vertically your “AppSec infrastructure”, at one condition: you need to centralize metrics and controls in a stand-alone platform able to handle the load corresponding to your organization’s size. Security processes can only be automated when you have metrics and proper visibility across your development targets, otherwise, it is just more burden on the AppSec team's shoulders. In turn, metrics and visibility help drive change and provide the spark to ignite a cultural change within your organization. Security ownership shifts to every engineer involved in the delivery process, and each one is able to leverage its own deep (yet partial) knowledge of the system to support the effort. This unlocks a world of possibilities: most security flaws can be treated like regular tickets, rule sets can be optimized for each pipeline based on criticality, capabilities or regulatory compliance, and progress can be tracked (saved time, avoided vulnerabilities etc.). In simpler terms, security can finally move at the DevOps speed. Conclusion Security can’t scale if it’s siloed, and slowing down the development process is no longer an option in a world led by DevOps innovation. The design and implementation of security controls are bound to evolve. In this article, we’ve depicted a high-level overview of the steps to be considered to scale AppSec. This starts with establishing a set of security requirements that involve all the departments, in particular product-related ones. From there it becomes possible to design guardrails to make security truly accessible with a mix of hard and soft gates. By carefully selecting automated detection and remediation that provide visibility and control, you will be laying a solid foundation for a real model of shared responsibility for security. Finally, embedding checks in the CI/CD system can be rolled out in multiple phases to progressively scale your security operations. With automated feedback in place, you can start incrementally adjusting your policies. A centralized platform creates a common interface to facilitate the exchange between application security and developer teams while enforcing processes. It is a huge opportunity to automate and propagate best practices across teams. Developers are empowered to develop faster with more ownership. When security is rethought as a partnership between software-building stakeholders, a flywheel effect can take place: reduced friction leads to better communication and visibility, automating of more best practices, easing the work of each other while improving security with fewer defects. This is how application security will finally be able to scale through continuous improvement.

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